How to make your rotation options list

You are brand new at a fantastic university filled with terrific faculty and you are tasked with finding the four in which you choose to rotate. This seems like a daunting task to attempt while you are still getting settled in a new place. At Vandy, we have both our “open lab list”, the list of our faculty accepting students this year, as well as departmental poster sessions at the beginning of the year. Still, how do you narrow a list of hundreds of faculty members down? Listen to these tips from both faculty and students to stay focused on the goal of finding the perfect thesis mentor.


In your opinion, what is the best way to discover labs of interest at Vanderbilt?


1. go to the poster sessions at the beginning of the year
2. use search terms for things you are interested in and find faculty who do research in that area
3. talk to people in the labs you are interested in
-Dr. Maureen Gannon

Talk to more senior peers during orientation. Do a web search using research area terms and Vanderbilt. Go to the faculty accepting students link
-Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou


Read the papers from the lab, attend seminars from the lab members
-Dr. David Samuels



1. Use the IGP-provided list of 100+ faculty who are accepting students
2. Go to department websites and scan the faculty- sometimes faculty will not be listed in the IGP list, but are actually accepting students.
-Lorena Infante

1. Ask the BRET office staff if they know anyone who fits your research interests
2. Attend the departmental introductions and poster sessions
3. Ask older graduate students if they know any faculty that fit your research interests
-Cara Schornak

1. talk to seasoned graduate students – they know lab set ups/atmosphere
2. talk to PIs, a lot, even if you don’t rotate with them it’s good networking
3. go to the lab websites
-Teddy van Opstal

What are the top things students should consider when picking a lab?



1. History of training graduate students
2. The opinions of people working in the lab about the training environment
3. Scientific importance and impact of the work
-Dr. Bill Tansey

1. Do you think you will get along with your mentor
2. Is the lab productive and members work together
3. Is the topic of interest to you
-Dr. Jay Jerome

1. Do I like this scientific family?
2. Do the students and post-docs already in there have papers?
3. Do I like the research?
-Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou



1. MENTOR (style, reputation, expectations of students etc)
2. Techniques used in lab (i.e. multiple techniques vs. one, how difficult are they, will you need to create new tools)
3. Project/Topic- If you are not passionate about the work, it will show
-Gabrielle Rushing

1. Do you enjoy the people in the lab? If you answered no, pick a different lab.
2. Are you expanding your skill set
3. Is the PI known as a good mentor? Word of mouth travels quickly, just ask other graduate students.
-Christian Marks

1. Vibe- are you comfortable in the lab?
2. Can you see yourself being happy there and wanting to come into work every day
3. Project- are you interested in the work in the lab and passionate about it
-Monika Murphy


What is the best way for a student to set up a meeting with a faculty member?



send a nice, professional email introducing yourself and ask to set up an in-person meeting
-Dr. Maureen Gannon

Email the faculty member, most are very receptive
-Dr. Jay Jerome

Email the professor. Engage some of the students in the faculty member’s lab and introduce your self. Express your interest. The students will let the faculty member know. Email the faculty
-Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou



Email them. State your purpose, your interest, and a few meeting options.
-Lorena Infante

Talk to the faculty members at the poster sessions. Ask them at the poster session if you can meet with them to discuss their research further. Then email them that same day to follow up on scheduling that meeting.
-Cara Schornak

In person introduction at a poster session if possible, with a follow-up email; otherwise an email including your CV, how you found out about their research, an interesting paper of theirs you read, and why you’d like to work with them.
-Wyatt McDonnell


Who else should students talk to before finalizing a faculty member as a rotation choice?


Students ahead of them who have rotated in the same lab or are permanent members of that lab.
-Dr. Bill Tansey

Other students.   Carolyn/Beth.   Other faculty members they are interested in to see if there are rotation scheduling conflicts (for e.g. some PIs may only accept rotations for 2/4 semesters)
-Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou

Other students in the lab
-Dr. David Samuels


Talk to the PIs themselves. Ask them about funding and about thesis project ideas. Talk to some kind of mentor. Try talking to Jim Patton from the IGP, or Linda Sealy or Roger Chalkley from IMSD. Alternatively, your IMPACT mentor and/or your IMPACT peers. Talk to previous students; make sure they’d recommend joining the lab. Talk to other students considering joining the same lab(s) as you. Are your pros-cons the same?
-Lorena Infante

Current and past students from the lab. Rotation students who joined and didn’t join have valuable opinions and insight. But it’s also important to take what they say and make your own conclusions.
-Andy Perreault

Prior students that have rotated in the faculty member’s lab or are currently in their lab. If you choose Vanderbilt, Carolyn Berry has a huge book that contains each student that rotated in a faculty member’s lab!
-Jacob Ruden

One thought on “How to make your rotation options list

  1. Pingback: Choosing a Graduate Program After Multiple Offers - The Gradschoolmatch Blog

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